eben byers’ jaw

Photo Credit: Dejan Petrović

eben byers’ jaw
By Filip Grujić
Translated by Željko Maksimović

Volume 8, Number 3 (Spring 2021)

eben byers’ jaw is my second translation to be published in The Mercurian, the first being Tanja Šljivar’s We Are the Ones Our Parents Warned Us About, published in the fall issue of 2018 and co-translated with American artist Cory Tamler. In that case, I was faced with a challenge of transposing the specificities of the Bosnian cultural space, manifested in the phraseology of the local dialect, and the peculiarities of the author’s style into American, i.e. English speaking, context. I was, naturally, immensely helped by Cory as a native speaker.

In the cases of eben byers, the difficulty, besides working independently, was that I was presented with an original dramatic text dealing with an American story, written in Serbian. Initially, it seemed easy, because English is the logical sound image for such a story, but it was quite the opposite. The dialogue (or more precisely, the monologues), sounded “quirky” in the original, and I wanted to preserve that quality in the translation. I approached the text from the actor’s perspective and imagined that the upper-class characters, the Byers family, speak in the transatlantic accent; Dr Bailey felt as someone who would insist on the accent and who would slightly overuse the highbrow phraseology; while the choir of Radium Girls was the voice of the oppressed working class, disillusioned by tragedy and disease, but still poetic in its choral form. As someone who is not primarily a translator, I cannot say whether I was successful in achieving these effects, but I was helped greatly by the peer reviewers and the editors of The Mercurian.

Filip Grujić (1995) is an award-winning writer from Belgrade, Serbia. He has a master’s degree in dramaturgy from the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade. His play not before 4:30, nor after 5:00 was awarded the best drama for 2019 at “Sterijino pozorje,” the biggest festival for Serbian dramatists. not before 4:30, nor after 5:00 is also included in Maison Antoan Vitez translation programme for 2020. The premiere took place in October 2020 in the Atelje 212 theatre in Belgrade. His play eben byers’s jaw is his newest play and had its premiere in Serbian National Theatre in Novi Sad, Serbia in December 2020. His play Where they sing was performed in Skopje, North Macedonia, as master performance by students of Faculty of dramatic arts in Skopje. He is also the author of several other plays, including two for young adults that were performed in many cities in Serbia. He is the author of two published novels; Bludni dani kuratog Džonija was published in December 2017 and Podstanar (Tenant) was published in october 2020 and is shortlisted for European Union Prize for Literature.

Željko Maksimović was born in Belgrade in 1985 but grew up during the 90s in Loznica, a town on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. He studied English Language and Literature and Japanese Language before he enrolled at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts and graduated from the Department of Acting. He has translated essays and books on theatre theory, such as Cambridge’s Introduction to Theater Directing by Maria Shevtsova, and several works by Tanja Šljivar (in collaboration with Cory Tamler), published in various national and international publications. He works as an actor, TV host, and translator in Belgrade (Serbia) and occasionally Prague (Czech Republic) where he collaborates with the director duo SKUTR. Along with theater director Ana Konstantinović, the founder of Eho Animato Belgrade-based collective, he is the cultural ambassador of New York’s La MaMa theater. He is a frequent collaborator of visual artist Ivana Ivković, taking part in several of her performances; and in theater, he is currently performing in Tanja Šljivar’s Regime of Love in Atelje 212 theatre in Belgrade.

eben byers’ jaw

filip grujić

translated by Željko Maksimović

dramatis personae:

eben byers (30)

byers, junior (23), his brother

byers, senior (60), his father

mrs byers (26), his wife

william j. a. bailey (45), physician

radium girls, choir

place:

new york, 1930

radium girls should be designated as pop culture of today. perhaps in a light cube, such as those the 1975 use in their concerts.

the byers story should be designated as something anachronistic – something that cannot be pop culture today.

the movement must be separated from spoken word almost at all times. many of the relationships are not based on words, but on the unspoken.

movement, therefore, must be a counterweight to words. where the spoken word ends, movement begins.

historical facts – reading manual

after world war i, radium was used in everyday consumer life. it was thought it cures everything, from mental issues, anemia, to impotence. it was a component of butter, toothpaste, drinking water. however, radon (which was considered to have medicinal properties) had a short lifespan – of only 3.82 days. therefore, when it would reach consumers, its medicinal properties would have been lost.

william. j. a. bailey, convicted in 1945 of forging his harvard diploma, decided to use pure radioactivity, which is retained in the body up to 1500 years, instead of radon. thus, he made his potion – radithor. he advertised it as “a cure for the living dead” and “perpetual sunshine.”

eben byers, a wealthy playboy, golfer, and son of the iron factory owner, was one of the first consumers of the potion.

the term radium girls was created after the girls of new jersey and illinois who worked with radium in factories. this work caused their deaths. officials covered up their death, as well as the illness, and the public was not interested in their case.

eben byers died of radithor consumption a few years after. all the papers published the story because eben byers was a respected citizen of new york city.

the new york times published an article titled “everything was fine until his jaw fell off.”

after his death, radithor and the use of radioactivity in commercial use were forbidden.

today, in art, society, sociology, cultural history, radium girls are a frequently explored topic. articles, books, dissertations, political manifestos have been written about them.

on eben byers, there is nothing but several sentences on wikipedia and a few obscure articles.

he was not explored in art.

radium girls

1.0

zestful, playful, in unison, in tune, stereotypical, girly (but from a time when it wasn’t an insult to call a certain behavior girly). cheerful workers at their workplace, they have very long pens which they point on their lips and then paint watch dials with them, continually. the girls’ song goes on until it drives eben byers mad.

radium girls:

we’re young, we’re young, young
so young
we’re young we won’t know what’ll
occur when it occurs
texas tommy, lindy hop, swing and tango
foxtrot, toddle, gentle waltz, feet together
(sometimes)
we’re young, we’re young, young
we sleep alone
(sometimes)
texas tommy, lindy hop, swing and tango
foxtrot, toddle, gentle waltz, feet together
we’re young we won’t know what’ll
happen when it happens
we’re young we’re young, young
so young

1. byers’ family apartment

eben byers:

you always figure out one thing, but lose a thousand others
i, namely,
cannot see an orange when it’s falling down the tree
for me it will either fall right this instant or it is already on the ground
i, namely,
cannot see far, no further than my hand
since i have two of them, it becomes a problem
i don’t believe in experiences, nor do i take gibberish about feelings too seriously
i, namely,
often laugh at myself when i hear the things i’m saying
the words sound too serious to me,
and i could say anything, i could replace any word with another
they would eventually get to the same point
i, namely,
have a habit of watching her mouth as she speaks
cos she has nice lips
she moves them nicely and they kiss nicely
i, namely,
love beauty and i love the amenities which make my life easier
i neither have a problem with my position, nor am i ashamed of my father
no question in my mind whether all i do is right
undoubtedly – it isn’t
i, namely,
am happy for having a body which is palpable
for having my own movements
for having my own hair
for having my own bones
for having my own teeth
and i only believe in my body
i don’t believe in my feelings
i don’t believe in my deeds
i don’t believe in my ideas
i don’t believe in reason
i don’t believe in my words
i, namely,
know that a memory of a moment is always weaker than the moment
i know physical touch is the only thing i can claim
truly exists

byers, junior:

i can spend twenty minutes in front of the mirror
looking at my facial features
trying to find the changes
trying to realize what my eyes give away
trying to catch my own lines
two shallow wrinkles between the eyebrows
which will one day become as deep as dad’s
he is still sitting in his armchair
smoking a cigarette before he’s even finished another
that man either understands everything or nothing
he is capable of being silent longer than anyone else
i’ll never understand him.

mrs byers walks by eben, kisses him in passing, he stops her and kisses her passionately, she laughs.

byers, junior:

hence, i am here now
on familiar ground again
tastelessly framed paintings, without sense or order
we’ve been sitting over five minutes, the three of us
we haven’t spoken a word
but it’s not uncomfortable, we simply function like that.

mrs byers passes by eben again and whispers something to him, they kiss passionately again, byers senior watches them, mrs byers, leaves.

byers, senior:

you shouldn’t make babies while there’s one already on the way
if you have the need, resolve it somewhere else
you will later be disgusted by the child
(i have been silent for long, so i said that to him
just to say something, that’s what fathers do)

eben byers and byers, junior look at each other and laugh.

eben byers:

did you hear that?

byers, junior:

i think he said it to you
my wife, besides not being pregnant,
and not being my wife
is not even my girlfriend anymore.

eben byers:

that gets easily forgotten.

byers senior offers cigarettes to his sons, they both take them. cigarettes and armchairs, comfortable, expensive, bulky and glamorous, are the only stage props.

byers, junior:

i don’t know if i’m lonely or in love
it just happened
i used to live with a friend above the 110th street
(but actually, i often slept with a girl)
(simultaneously, i also often slept with another girl)
(and i wanted to sleep with five or six more, maybe even seven)
essentially, it all doesn’t matter
what’s crucial is that i am capable of loving two individuals
(or five, six, maybe even seven)
but they cannot understand that
so i lost my real girlfriend
and then i also lost my second girlfriend
who wanted to be the first one
(or the real one)
but i didn’t want her to become the first one
(or the real one)
then, i was scared my life would be taken to the extremes with the first girl
and then i was scared to make the second girl first
because my life would’ve inevitably been taken to the extremes with the second girl
(and the fifth, sixth, maybe even the seventh)
so i am alone now
and it’s cute that i seem to have too much love in me
so now i am not sure if i’m lonely or in love
it seems to me that i would love most of all to get a kiss before bed
but a kiss that doesn’t mean anything the next day
or that doesn’t mean as much as to make me scared of things going to the extremes
i lived alone for five years and now i’m back
is that normal?

eben byers:

no.

byers, junior:

that’s all you’ve got to say – no?

eben byers:

you’re all skinny
your beard is soft, but you’re growing it
looks like grass, pubes
all in all, you look quite bad.

byers, junior:

very often, i name things using big words
fear of death, mortality, immortality
fear of attachment, connecting, detaching
fear of eternity, inhumation, time
fear of conventions, molds, roads
fear of freedom, will, reason
fear of mindlessness, mania, sorrow
fear of loneliness, ugliness, ageing
fear of repetition, circling, around
forward – backward, backward – forward
circle
but maybe i’m just weak
nothing more
weak, transient, useless
twisted, torn apart, tired
actually
it’s highly likely that i’m simply
stupid.

head down, sigh, expiration – air, head up.

byers, senior:

i used to argue if i heard such nonsense
i’d want to beat the shit out of him in front of everyone
when he speaks like a little girl
but now it’s easier just to get up
(therefore i got up)
say goodnight and leave
(therefore i left)

byers, junior:

goodnight, dad.

mrs byers approaches eben again and puts her arms around his shoulders or at least something that might signify that.

mrs byers:

i think it has all started that evening when his brother came. he later told me he didn’t know what to do with him, that the kid, his brother, was lost and lethargic, that he’d always been like that, and that he was afraid he would do something stupid.

my eben never spoke about himself, he never spoke much about others either, basically, he never spoke much, but he was always a good kisser.

had he wanted to speak, he would have certainly spoken beautifully.

anyway, that evening, he said that about his brother, so i memorized those words well, because it was rare for him to say anything sincere.

i mean, it might have even been insincere, he was maybe just tired, i never really know with him.

before he went to bed, he kissed me on the belly and said that we will be good parents, he and i, since i was freshly pregnant at the time.

he wouldn’t sleep with me that evening, he didn’t want to start hating the child, he said. but i know the elbow he injured playing golf seven days ago has been hurting him for some time now. he’s been underperforming in bed ever since.

it felt odd, but also he spoke oddly of everything then, i think he was sentimental because of the kid, his brother.

mrs byers, that’s how the kid calls me.

eben byers:

it’s not abnormal
it’s just stupid to look so unwell because of it
keep your head up, this too shall pass
alright, kid?

byers, junior:

you really think it’s not crazy too feel this
fear of death, mortality, eternity –

eben byers:

please, stop
you’re embarrassing yourself.

2. after golf. at the physician william j. a. bailey

william j. a. bailey, physician:

it’s true, he came to me around five o’clock in the afternoon, with a pain in his left elbow. the elbow is a complex joint consisting of three bones – one in the upper arm and two in the forearm. considering its structure, it allows movement on two planes: flexion / springing, as well as rotation of the forearm. the scope of the flexion / springing is 0 to 145 degrees. several large muscles, such as biceps, triceps, the flexors and the extensors of the forearm, as well as larger tendons meet in the elbow.

while speaking, he is examining eben byers.

the main ligaments which connect the bones of the elbow are: medial (ulnar collateral ligament), lateral (radial collateral ligament) and the annular ligament. these ligaments provide stability to the elbow during movement.

he looks at eben byers, then strongly squeezes his elbow.

the elbow is exposed to injury and damage, both for its structure, and for the fact that it is one of the larger joints in one of the more active parts of the body. the tendons are most frequently exposed to injury, which can cause a so-called tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow.

he squeezes the elbow so violently that eben byers screams.

eben byers:

what’s that for?

william j. a. bailey, physician:

however, in spite of the fact that eben byers actually played golf seven days ago, at the yale golf course, his injury was not caused by playing golf, as he claimed. he, actually, as i heard from a female patient, fell off the bed on a train, during sex acts with the aforementioned lady.

william looks at him and let’s go of his elbow.

william j. a. bailey, physician:

fool.

eben byers:

i cannot move my elbow
i feel helpless and old
it is neither broken nor cracked
it has just decided to hurt
it influences all of my

pause

daily activities
i cannot lean on it
and so far i haven’t been able to lean without it
a pain, a quite small, insignificant pain
can add twenty years to a man
but not in experience.

william j. a. bailey, physician:

so far, i have taken forty-five years from this world, and gave it as many. my family has never walked past waldorf/astoria, let alone went in. they never had gin and tonic at club 21 on the 52nd street, they do not know what art deco is nor do they listen to duke ellington. in the end, my brother has died of typhoid fever in 1917, my mother and father are presumably no longer alive, and even if they are, they are too far away. i, therefore, have no motive except for paying back for these years i have taken from the world by giving something more. people have said a lot and they still do because i am not one of them, but i am around them.

eben byers:

mr bailey!
oh, mr bailey!

william j. a. bailey, physician:

mr byers?

eben byers:

mr bailey, oh, mr bailey
how do we make this pain go away?

they both laugh. eben byers pulls bailey by his coat.

eben byers:

mr bailey, imagine if my other arm was also healthy.

william j. a. bailey, physician:

yes, mr byers and i have been friends for some years now, i am a physician of his golf team. our relationship, i might be at liberty to say, is based on trust. i treated him, and he trusted me. he was my friend and patient.

eben byers laughs.

william j. a. bailey, physician:

nothing’s ever enough for you, is it?

eben byers:

i just want this to pass, that’s all
to become me again
the me that i know
that you know
that others know
to become me again
the same me that i always was
that i will always be
(you will agree that this is just an empty phrase
both of us know to be untrue and impossible on so many levels
but you understand me, my dear willy,
that’s what’s most important)

william j. a. bailey, physician:

i recommended the thing i use myself. a bottle of radithor a day. i also recommended the same thing to all the employees of the bailey radium laboratories of east orange, new jersey. i built all of this on my own. and you? what have all of you built? new york? i don’t think so. mr byers was different from you lot.

radium girls

2.0

radium girls:

our ancestors are
black, portoricans, filipinos, irish
our future husbands are
tanned, disjointed, immobile
after the war, labor remained
after the labor, hunger remained
a job for us
which requires a gentle hand
a gentle hand and a soft touch
which requires moist lips
beguiling eyes
a job for us

grace fryers:

i was born in 1899 in new jersey.

eighth of nine siblings.
my sister, ninth in row of nine siblings –
adelaide (that’s her name) worked with me in new jersey.

we painted watches, there was a lot of girls there.
for the watches to get the glowing effect,
we would have to point pens on our lips.

pens soaked with radium.

my sister, adelaide, used to yap a lot.

she was yapping so much she gave everyone headaches.

she got fired for it.
i worked –

they interrupt her.

radium girls:

a job for us
from new jersey and illinois
from the suburbs of the suburbs
from the end of the canal
where sand gets in your eyes
faster than the wind blows.

grace fryers:

i worked orderly, i was getting paid orderly.

after some time, i felt strong headaches.

then my jaw started to hurt.

that’s how it all began.

3. eben byers and mrs byers

later, byers, junior as well

mrs byers:

a month passed. my eben really became his old self. he drank three bottles of radithor a day, in the morning, during the day and in the evening. i would always see him take it in the morning, not so often during the day and then i started not seeing him in the evening again.

he moves somewhere, he’s a man who always moves, he says, when he is not moving it’s like he doesn’t exist.

mr physician, on the other hand, is a real faggot, i must say. a horrible man. a fraud. i told this to eben. it gives me chills when i see him. even now.

i know all of my eben’s adventures. he would never hide, he just asked of me to understand.

he is convincing.

and i can understand anything because i love him.

i just don’t know what to do with it.

eben byers:

you still have time to think about everything
i won’t make you do anything, i’m merely suggesting
birth is the beginning of death; this truth is confirmed by everything in the nature
it is too obvious
making love in order to continue the species is
only and exclusively
the result of mortality and corruption in nature and simultaneously
the victory of the principle of death
to strengthen the gender through love means to strengthen the ampleness and the perfection of individuality
to achieve eternity
the good infinity
to make love for the species, for creating a family
means to diminish individuality
to achieve the imperfectly mortal in time
the bad infinity.

mrs byers:

basically, he wanted them to cut me open and bye bye baby.

my old eben was back.

eben byers:

only an insufficiently beautiful and insufficiently perfect moment
should be replaced by another
what you and i have is beautiful enough and perfect enough
it isn’t at a hundred percent because that would be impossible, otherworldly
but it is perfect enough, you must agree
everything perfect and endless is beautiful in itself, reaching eternity
is not shared
is not continued by giving birth to the imperfect parts of yourself
we do not want little, imperfect, you and me
we want us, the way we are, complete
you don’t want to be a positivist who knows no other love than the fertile one
who only acknowledges the gender that procreates
our love is both spiritual and physical, even when we fuck we don’t fuck because we’re making babies
but because we love doing it
because we feel each other’s bodies, touch, sensations
we feel the physical presence, the coupling, the fullness
you and i fuck out of love and pleasure, not out of need to continue the species.

mrs byers:

every time he cums and lights up a cigarette he says that he wants to make babies.

as if he’s some kind of an artist. tailor. carpenter.

to make babies.

like it is a sweater you sew.

a ball you inflate.

like it is a completely different movement of the hip.

completely different sexual position.

eben byers:

i’m afraid you suffer from the illness
called the fetishism of love
(but you’re not alone)
that disease manifests itself so that the object of love
is not a complete person
not a living organic personality
but a part of a person
a fraction of personality
for instance
hair
arms
legs
head
lips
they induce senseless infatuation and so the individual part
separated from the whole
turns into a fetish
and so a sense of personality is lost
individuality is not visible.

mrs byers:

he told me that he fell in love with me because i looked good with a ring, like a real woman.

because i have soft hands.

because they calm him down.

because i know how to wrap a gift.

because i know how to stop pain.

he told me that he fell in love because he enjoyed my every touch.

in short, he told me that he fell in love with me because it seems as if i won’t let him go, even when he lets me go and that he would always be able to return to these hands.

a true romantic, isn’t he?

eben byers:

the great purpose of love is destroyed by the fetishism of love
(where i most certainly include the continuation of the species as well)
by losing the sense of one’s own personality and the sense of the other (your) personality
say, you and i
you and i are so close
and yet each of us is lonely
only the force of love can take us out of that loneliness
but not the force of disintegrating love, the love of splitting
but the love which feels the completeness of personality
then we shall love not for creating a family
which is always egotistically closed
opposed to the world
which swallows personality
absorbs
but for the amorous – mystical unity
or if you permit
for love which is enough by itself

mrs byers:

i have always wondered if i preferred the happy eben or the sad eben.

when he is sad he says nice things, when he is happy he says ugly things.

although, nicely wrapped.

i did not care what he was saying then, i was glad he was back.

that his elbow didn’t hurt anymore.

that he can kiss me.

it was important that it was eben. his arm, his leg, his body.

here, somehow, suddenly, byers junior appears, drunk. it would be good if everyone would be on the stage all along, so i think that the two actors now become aware of the presence of the third.

byers, junior:

i make one step
i wish someone would hold my head
up
i wish someone would stop me
i’m stupid
i wish someone would teach me when a man needs to be strong
brave stable reliable
i make one step
mistake
mistake
another mistake
and i haven’t even made the second step
a balloon quite a small imperceptible balloon
it is not hard to notice such a balloon
it is so small and imperceptible
a cloud quite a small imperceptible cloud
it is not hard to notice such a cloud
cunt cunt cunt
everything i set in motion just spins in my head
and i can’t sleep
i can’t not sleep either
i can’t be alone
i can’t be with others either
i just return and i retrieve every hole
logical error emotional callosity anomaly
i need a friend
a lot of them
a different friend every night
but all the same
to sit and listen until i finish
one friend would be stupid
he would already know all my stories
a good friend just to exist
nod his head and to continue doing it as much as i need it
a person quite a small imperceptible person
to teach me everything they know
a conversation quite a small imperceptible conversation
which would change it all
which would change me
which would teach me
which would make me see things differently
cunt cunt cunt
an event quite a small imperceptible event
which would give me purpose
which would make me see us differently
which would make me believe in the reason to believe
a miracle quite a small imperceptible miracle
of which i would be a part
i don’t need her nor the other one nor the third
just a small really small
just one miracle
something
anything no matter what just that nothing null a worthless bureaucratic conundrum a little hole in memory a cow on a cliff a child in velvet a man in white a letter on a letter three times a night one two four jump jump over jump on anything a smack a hook punch a weight a well deep inside untill the end and then a well again deeper inside a weight in the water way down quite a small imperceptible bottom where i learned how to breathe.

mrs byers:

my eben went down to the living room afterwards to fix himself a drink. he found his brother sitting there with an empty bottle.

they spoke about something, and then the kid started crying. eben tried to calm him. but couldn’t, the kid was kicking like a cow.

i don’t know what that child’s problem is. he is twenty-three years old. he cannot contain himself. like he is the only one with problems.

eben hugged him, but the kid kept kicking and so he knocked down the empty bottle. it fell on the floor and shattered.

their father was standing upstairs, he got out of his room to see what was going on. the two of them did not see him, but he was looking at them shaking his head.

byers, senior:

i built this town
everything that’s made out of iron came from my men
from my factory
and for whom?
in fact, it perfectly doesn’t matter
i’m tired
and i just wanted to sleep
i am over sixty years old and not many things are going to change
therefore, it just doesn’t matter for whom i had built this town
since it’s not for myself.

mrs byers:

when he saw me, mr byers slowly approached me and the two of us watched those two fight downstairs. or whatever they were doing, i don’t know.

he smiled and kissed me on the forehead.

byers, senior:

i wish i had a wife again
young
but i also wish i was young
i would be no good to her like this
if my wife was alive i would gladly be old in front of her
but in front of a new one
no reason
i’d only get older.

mrs byers:

he went to his room and i stayed alone. suddenly i felt i would also be old once. if i get old with someone, that’s fine, sharing the old age.

if not, what then?

i cannot share the old age with someone i hadn’t shared youth with all of a sudden.

all in all, my eben couldn’t look at his brother in that state anymore.

the kid was completely distraught, like a little girl.

he recommended him a bottle of radithor a day.

he said it had helped him.

shortly after, the kid became ill.

4. eben and byers, junior

they are climbing onto a lookout, a clearing. the weather is nice. they are panting all along. the dialogue is like a game of associations. quick. they’re catching each other’s thoughts, continuing them.

eben byers:

in an airplane.

byers, junior:

on the rocks.

eben byers:

parking lot.

byers, junior:

in a pool.

eben byers:

on a train.

byers, junior:

and?

eben byers:

that’s how i messed up my elbow.

byers, junior:

i thought it was playing golf.

eben byers:

after playing golf.

byers, junior:

hotel room.

eben byers:

as usual.

byers, junior:

but this one was filthy.

eben byers:

the girl?

byers, junior:

the room.

eben byers:

in a bar.

byers, junior:

which one?

eben byers:

there were many.

byers, junior:

i’ve never done that.

eben byers:

only the most expensive in a bar.

byers, junior:

c’mon.

eben byers:

we’re almost there.

byers, junior:

i’m dead.

eben byers:

you hear it?

byers, junior:

what?

eben byers:

nothing. nothing to be heard.

byers, junior:

scary.

they’ve climbed the top of the clearing. a view extends in front of them. everything is so quiet. nice. no one around. you cannot hear anything. they watch and let this moment last longer than usual.

byers, junior:

i always thought noise kept me alive
that’s why all the apartments i lived in were above the clubs
so i could hear the noise in the night
anything
screaming music police sirens a weeping woman
i hope that will change at some point
that i will learn to live with silence.

eben byers:

shall we go?

byers, junior:

no, it’s nice now. for the first time since i came back.

eben byers:

i don’t know what to tell you.

byers, junior:

you don’t have to tell me anything.

eben byers:

how are you?

byers, junior:

what’s wrong with you?

eben byers:

i want to tell you something.

byers, junior:

what?

eben byers:

i don’t know.

byers, junior:

let’s say you’ve said it and i’ll listen.

eben byers:

to what?

byers, junior:

to what you wanted to tell me.

eben byers:

you know what i wanted to say?

byers, junior:

i don’t.

eben byers:

then we’ll say i told you something.

byers, junior:

i will certainly listen to something.

eben byers:

besides, anything i’d say would be stupid.

byers, junior:

take care and be good?

eben byers:

and that i’m glad you’re here.

byers, junior:

it is stupid.

eben byers:

i told you so.

byers, junior:

well, i knew you wanted to say something like that.

eben byers:

i’m your elder brother, i should say something.

byers, junior:

like an advice?

eben byers:

something like that.

byers, junior:

no need.

eben byers:

alright.

byers, junior:

just a bunch of nonsense and commonplaces.

eben byers:

but you are alright?

byers, junior:

i am.

eben byers:

that’s good.

pause.

byers, junior:

on the roof.

eben byers:

what?

byers, junior:

i fucked on the roof.

eben byers:

c’mon?

byers, junior:

it was lively
exciting
unusual
it was better
than the act itself
i fucked on the roof
my foot slipped
she laughed
i thought i was going to skin my dick
it was good
i didn’t skin it
i couldn’t come
i guess because of all the excitement
i fucked on the rocks
in a pool
in a hotel room
but the best fuck was on the roof
she said i was an animal
a bull
a machine
she said i was all kissable
it was really good
the best
better than the act itself
i fucked on the roof
very well.

the moment lasts longer than usual. longer than the previous moment which lasted longer than usual. a movement, a turn, a small thing. something unexpected. like the first snow. in front of them a wasteland, a landscape, sigur ros.

radium girls

3.0

still singing, working – however – not so much in unison, not so much together. the choreography is slightly disfigured, they keep losing the rhythm. like they are lagging behind.

grace fryers:

so, my sister adelaide was fired for yapping.

it’s so funny, said a cousin of mine while i was sitting as a flower
it’s so funny that a person who fucked up (my sister adelaide)
will be the one that’ll live to a ripe old age
while the one who was good (myself), by the look of it, won’t.

radium girls:

we close our legs
when they look beneath
we’re waiting for the right one
we’re waiting for the pure one
at work, when we have to
we accept the paws of
the fat
oldfangled boars

edna hussman:

my name is edna hussman, i was born in 1901
sometime in may, just when the allergies start.

from an irish mother and an american father.

i worked in a luminate company
on the outskirts of new jersey and i used to know grace.

i heard she had pain in her jaw.

i had no reason to believe that one day
i will have pain in mine too
and then –

katherine schaub:

katherine schaub, nice to meet you.

a bit younger than edna.

born in 1902, a bit older than grace.

we were all the same age, between 18 and 20.

the little flappers, as they used to call us on the shore.

i would avoid edna and grace a little bit.

they said the pain in their jaws was contagious.

i hadn’t seen them for a while, but then i also became
one of those
contagious ones.

radium girls:

as one of us goes
another comes
as another comes
one goes
we would go and come
come and go
they knew our first
or last names
never both
as they learn one
another comes
as they learn the other
yet another comes.

quinta maggia mcdonald:

i owe my absurd name to my poor mother
who gave birth to five daughters
my mother’s name was maggia
my name comes from hers
quinta maggia
that is – the fifth maggia
born on valentine’s day, by definition – romantic
by the calendar – in love with advertisements
i was attracted by an ad
“good wages for fast workers”
i didn’t care for the jaw pain
i’ve always hated doctors
but when i realized that my friends and i
share the same pain
we decided to do something and we –

grace fryers:

i was the first one to feel the jaw pain.

we asked for a doctor –
they sent one from the company.

we asked for a doctor –
we didn’t get another.

we asked for a lawyer –

edna hussman:

and, as it turned out,
we found a lawyer
but no sooner than two years after the first pain.

radium girls:

our watches glow in the dark
far around the joints
our time glows in the dark
glows glows glows.

5. around the funeral – after, before, during, mixed

everyone – except for byers, junior

eben byers:

i could have told him

but i also could have said something else
or something different
it wouldn’t have changed anything
i could have told him when we were sitting up there

but i didn’t have to
it wouldn’t have changed anything
eventually, it all comes down to a possibility
just a possibility
(and that is enough for us)
to say something about today
it could all end there
to say something about the weather
about love
about a sports game
about art
about all these banal and trivial things
and when we no longer have the possibility
then there is no longer a reason
to say anything.

william j. a. bailey, physician:

in all times and places, human beings have, basically, organized their lives so that they can live with others. this young man had returned to his family home, but he did not feel the family in it. he did not know what he wanted. liberal individuals undoubtedly have narcissistic sides, but the others are important to them. when he left his apartment above the 110th street, he did not have to return to his family home. he did not even return because of the family, but in order to not be alone. the fear of solitude is deeper than the love towards others, and that fear must be overcome so that a man could live happily. however, it is now too late for someone to tell him that.

mrs byers:

when he died, and he died quite suddenly, he just fell from a chair and died, highly unexpectedly, he caught me off guard, i couldn’t sleep for a long time.

the kid, john byers, was only three years my junior, and i felt like i was ten years older than him.

when he died, nobody in the house cried.

that is, i was the only one who cried.

in the end i don’t know if i cried because nobody else did or because a young person had died.

john byers. i would imagine the world without john byers, and i could imagine the world without such a name. his initials: j. b. i can easily imagine the world without dorothy byers. that is, adams, which was my maiden name.

but i cannot imagine the world without the man i had met. i cannot imagine the world without myself.

he is not only john byers. i am not only dorothy byers, nor adams.

he just died so suddenly, i don’t know how that happens. just like that. poof and that’s it. doesn’t make any sense.

william j. a. bailey, physician:

maturity is, before all, a precondition for solitude. it is clear that mr byers, junior, was not mature enough. the results have shown that his body was quite weak for such a young man. you have seen it yourself. he was drinking. you know what they use above the 110th street, so i guess i don’t need to explain it to you. instead of going there and arresting those responsible for his death, you are interrogating me in my factory, a legal factory, with squeaky clean state-issued documents. you are calling the state into question with this.

mrs byers:

people can certainly die suddenly, but it’s not that common. you think you would never get into a situation where something uncommon happens to you or someone close to you.

time flows, you participate in it, you don’t impede, you make arrangements, plans, drafts.

all of that cannot just vanish suddenly.

if it wasn’t for that doctor, as he called himself, how could the state even allow him to open a factory, that man was imprisoned for fraud and everyone knew that, kicked out of harvard, that man, william j. a. bailey is a fraudster and you let him, you as a state, let him work, let him be an important citizen. him and his potion.

no one dies just like that.

william j. a. bailey, physician:

he died from the effects of cocaine and alcohol. not radithor. had it been from radithor, i would have long been dead. in that case, you would have no one to interrogate and your claims would be well-grounded. but they are now just a bunch of rubbish of which i am a living proof. or are you going to question my life as well?

light only on byers, senior, eben byers and byers, junior. this is their moment when only the father speaks. byers, junior, clearly, cannot hear. he is dead. eben byers, clearly, does not listen. he only watches his younger brother.

byers, senior:

tiredly, like giving a speech, without expression

we change, our bones change, our language changes
in endless time, changes change, atoms change
in endless time, the world will inevitably happen again
you will be born out of your mother’s womb again
your skeleton will grow again
you’ll make the same mistakes again

he stalls. disconnectedly. desultorily.

(at the front door when you broke… and i…
in front – there, there where i couldn’t do better
and then when you swam – fast, and your mother…
when you couldn’t swallow a candy, so we turned you upside-down
to spit it out)

he continues normally.

you will live all the moments up to this one again
but you might just once turn left
instead of right
or right instead of left
you might sleep longer than you should one morning

he stops. silence. continues, with difficulty.

i will try to…
train my brain to save my memory
to not be feeble-minded
but i know i will know you through simple examples:
when you laughed most beautifully (in front of the house, while…)
when you lost your first tooth (all others fell out the same)
when you –
until we meet again in this circle
i will remember each smile by the one
when you laughed most beautifully
and we are left with nothing else but to live
as we would want to live all over again.

6. time jump, everywhere –

first signs of putrefaction

mrs byers:

he would pretend he understood everything. people considered him a well-mannered man. with strong arms. piercing eyes. he could say anything he wanted to me. in spite of everything, my eben was never forgetful.

he’s now begun to not notice. to forget. to neglect. to jump into another world.

he’s begun to not see me.

he didn’t notice i had kept the child. he forgot i was pregnant. he forgot to flush after peeing.

sometimes, in the night, when he sleeps at home, he twitches and his hand slips down there. he kisses me. and then, like an animal –

but then i realize he is sleeping, that he is not himself in that moment, that he doesn’t do that consciously.

he doesn’t see me consciously.

eben byers:

ecstatically

a man must work
that is a fact so simple i don’t know
how i managed to miss it
no, i know
meaning always comes at the end of every meaning
i am, of course, capable of imagining
all the ways to limit my pleasures
but that’s a wasted effort
let’s say
when i travelled to europe
when the train was passing through big dutch cities
my gaze would dive into the exteriors of well-lit houses
without curtains
houses where everyone is preoccupied by their own intimacies
even then i could perceive the essence of a family
or in hamburg when i walked by the windows in which
women were smoking and waiting
what i saw was the essence of prostitution
but as soon as i would get behind a window, behind that glass
as soon as i would get to the other side
behind the dutch illumination and family
behind the hamburg blindedness and prostitution
i would wish to be in the other place
from holland to hamburg
from hamburg to holland
no, it’s clear
a man must work and so now i work
there must be discipline
houses must emerge somehow
clothes must emerge somehow
iron must emerge somehow
this city must emerge somehow.

byers, senior:

i made him the head of the factory
when they were kids i taught them that they must work
later, when my wife died
i didn’t teach them anything
since he died –
i cannot look at him anymore
i made him the head of the factory
so he could sleep
so he could stay awake
i’ve accepted death
i’ve accepted its inevitability
since my wife died
i have accepted that people would die
and ever since, each thing i look at
is just a function
it just signifies a relation in nature
a relationship
it means something as long as it means something to me
it signifies something as long as it signifies something to me
poets used to clearly say:
the helmet stand, the rock on the shoulders, the castle of the body = head
the cliffs for words = teeth
the sword of the mouth = tongue
the apple of the chest, the hard acorn of the mind = heart
there are no clear relations today
no clear borders
everything that’s inside us is nothing but a function
my function was to bring iron to this city
i have done it
there is nothing else to do
i could live and i don’t have to live
i made eben the head
so he could find his function
and stop looking for greater meaning in everything.

eben byers:

i have started working out every day
i work out my torso
thighs
arms
i do the usual exercises
but, man, it’s good
it’s so simple
arm up, arm down
leg up, leg down
push up one, two, three
i forced the workers to work out
so when i get to work we work out together
the workers and i
i’m doing well
i feel well
stop asking me!

mrs byers:

i couldn’t catch him anymore. i have already mentioned he’s a man who always moves. but then he literally wouldn’t stop.

it seemed he would move so much that he would just disappear. or start flying.

he walked around, he wouldn’t come in the night, he wouldn’t stop murmuring for days.

i worried.

i’m afraid i asked him if he was feeling well so many times that he wanted to rip out my teeth in the end.

one night, when he was sleeping home and when he woke up in the middle of the night (as usual), he looked at me, piercingly, like he was checking if i were a human being. if he was dreaming.

he would just repeat –

eben byers:

it’s my fault.

mrs byers:

hey, calm down, easy.

eben byers:

it’s my fault.

mrs byers:

i took him in my arms and calmed him. he was shaking, like he had fever all of a sudden. he fell asleep like that.

the next morning when i woke up, he was already doing exercises. he had an inexplicably silly smile on his face. like he was a man carved out of stone.

i asked him if he was alright. he said he was.

eben byers:

of course i’m alright.

mrs byers:

he didn’t remember anything from the previous night.

eben byers:

your belly has grown. you could start working out.

mrs byers:

he kept saying my belly was big, like i should shrink the child inside me. i didn’t know what to say.

william j. a. bailey, physician:

whad did she say about me, that i am a real fag? oh well. she’s a towny bitch, used to being well-off. used to everything belonging to her. she was born pretty, her life was planned even before she was born, she accepted all the rules, she loved her daddy, she cried on her mommy’s shoulder when she didn’t know what to do, but that’s fine. a serious fag and a fraud. alright. mrs byers is jealous, that’s why i like her. she’s jealous of what eben and i had. when he first came to me, he was pretty, young, bright. he had strength in his movement. he moved with ease. he would grab everything he could with ease. and everything he couldn’t. like apollo. he didn’t shy away from anything.

when his elbow started to hurt, he was desperate. i wanted him to feel better. i wanted him to stay pretty, young, bright.

we had what he never had with his wife. we had something that hadn’t been planned. something wild, that stands against… against everything his class implied. against everything that could be learned. against all the beaten paths.

he and i were a challenge, feel free to write that down.

radithor gave him everything. it allowed him to be pretty, young and strong. it allowed him not to feel the pain. it allowed him to be eben byers. reckless and insatiable. the only thing he could ever be.

eben and william j. a. bailey, physician together in parties. exaggerated, like they are in a small castle in provence – château de lacoste.

eben byers:

i just do my head shake
and i learn all the immigrant languages
at least a word of each
to say
hey gorgeous
i learn their soft spots
chinks in their armors
around the thighs and the tongues
where there’s wood and moisture
oh how i loved visiting those parts
how i visited those areas
i would forget the starts of those days
i would forget what days even were
i would forget who was whom
i’d learn to spit in the distance three times
but once a bit closer
so they would sail towards me
all the immigrants and the blacks from the south
it is so simple
just two words
hi gorgeous
one two three four
like teeth
i pile them up
i bite till they fall
one man after another
one woman after another
i scrape them like limescale
one two three four
i hope they’ll always stay
stuck together
packed together
that’s how they like me
when my knee goes
back and forth
once under the bridge, brooklyn bridge
once under the bowery, where the homeless are
once on the fifty second, by the old astor
say, my dear willy
who would want to father his own children
when he can father
all others?

william j. a. bailey, physician:

the therapy was going according to plan. eben was taking sufficient doses and he was recovering from the injury. we would sometimes go to the bars together, nothing too often, really. we’d drink a couple of drinks and part ways. he’d go to his home and i’d go to mine.

i was really satisfied with the way his recovery was going.

you could see he was getting his strength back.

eben byers:

i’ve tried them all
the hard ones, like candy
they melt in the mouth
hard to bite through
shrouded in long tunics
skirts and garters
cigars and black hats
half top, oxford, army
(the soldiers would usually cry
before we finish
and many cried even before we
started)
a small woman
with a double chin down to her tits
i stick it all the way up to her vestibular system
no air
crippled profiteers
old gramophone traders
silverware makers
railroaders
my good willy
take me to just another place
to end the morning
triumphantly.

william j. a. bailey, physician:

eben byers really looked good at the time. we even had a game of golf, to celebrate his recovery.

don’t make assumptions based on gossip, that is utterly frivolous and makes me question your integrity.

i am forty-five years old. i could be your father, in some lower societies, but an older brother for sure. a man gets four opportunities in his life. one – when he graduates from the university, one – when he is medically in full strength, one – when he is in full wisdom and one – when he has nothing to lose.

do you think i would make radithor to earn a diamond umbrella or a winning dog? i have already earned my money.

radithor is my gift to the world. a gift to eben. a gift to youth, strength, beauty, fertility.

simply – a gift to the essence of life.

eben byers:

i moved from skin to faux skin
i moved to angels
that look from above
covering their eyes, but secretly peeking
through their sweet little fingers
i moved from ordinary holes
to sealed, open, stretched
sewn, mutilated, stitched
inverted, asymmetrical, hanging
bushy, berry-shaped, muddy
enthroned, immobile, retarded
chipped, whole, sweet
funny, routed, declassed
porcelain, brownish, ocher
yellow, sick, sour
married, grieved, moribund
some cheerful, some sad
some grey, some feathery
some in three minutes, some in three hours
some with willy, some without him
you would be seriously amazed
by the multitude of different holes
flowerpots, donuts, onion rings
all in all, the world is magical
its servants are magical
the female companions and the angels above
(they look more often, the gaps between their fingers
are getting wider)
they look and they say
the world is big
the world is beautiful
the world is what you are
and you are what is big
and beautiful.

long, intense orgasm.

mrs byers:

i knew many different ebens up to that point. and i always thought my old eben will be back. mine, whole and steadfast.

i knew the happy eben and the sad eben.

but i never knew eben happy in sadness.

that eben horrified me.

eben byers:

my jaw started hurting me all of a sudden
when i moved my mouth
when i took a bite
it hurt
when i ran
when i made a step
i felt pain
and i –

mrs byers:

his jaw started hurting him all of a sudden. he no longer knew how to kiss. he could no longer laugh. i felt – i felt it was serious.

eben byers:

what’s happening to me?

william j. a. bailey, physician:

nothing serious. it’ll pass.

eben byers:

my brother died. i gave him the thing you gave me. he’s dead. my jaw hurts. what’s going on?

byers, senior:

a few years back jan van ruysbroek
was beatified
i know that, i helped this church
five years had passed after his death
he had been dead for five years, that ruysbroek
and then they exhumed him
his body was intact and pure
however, a tiny spot on his nose
represented a reliable
(regardless of how small)
sign of decay
a man cannot beat nature
cannot beat god
cannot beat the rules
no matter how hard he kicks and resists
therefore i now live and i wait to stop living
there is nothing for me afterwards
i am not waiting for salvation or enlightenment
i am waiting neither for virgins nor for whores
even this is too much for me.

mrs byers:

he had the same shadows on his jaw like the radium girls? radium girls? i don’t know them. alright, what does that mean? what does it mean to me that he had the same shadows on his jaw like the radium girls?

william j. a. bailey, physician:

it’s nonsense. besides, let’s not kid ourselves. you weren’t by their side when you were supposed to. now you’ve remembered the radium girls. please, the voice of workers is only heard by history, and too little time has passed for them to become history.

radium girls

4.0

a song again, this time four girls are in unison, one sticks out – four girls at a low ebb, one at full strength.

radium girls:

our bones have become thin
our touch rough
and words dark
our song has become silent
movement slow
bodies fragile
our babies
are stillborn
our wombs
are tombs

albina maggia larice:

i am a very small woman – just 4’6
my name is albina maggia larice, i am quinta maggia’s sister.

mother really loved her own name, so she gave both of us her middle name.

i am the oldest, born in 1895.

i was the last to get sick, but i got the worst of it.

maybe cos i’m so small, so the radiation spread everywhere straight away.

a pocket venus.

they used to call me benna.

grace fryer:

we waited two years to get a lawyer and finally,
well, it was about time after two years,
a man who represented us showed up
but then, when we got to court
our bones –

edna hussman:

our bones were so weak
our bodies so fragile
that we couldn’t lift our arms
when we were supposed to take the oath
we couldn’t even say a word
when the judge asked us to make a statement
we couldn’t even write a word
when we were supposed to tell the truth.

quinta maggia mcdonald:

the truth is they told us we were sick
of syphilis
the truth is they said we were sick because we’re
whores
the doctors at the us radium corporation.

radium girls:

our positions were vacant
our positions were filled by others
portoricans, irish, blacks from the south
there wasn’t a word in the papers
not a single page
with our names
not a single picture
with our curls
not a single evidence
of our existence
our words
were pissed in the wind
on the new jersey shore.

7. byers, senior and eben byers

eben byers in gauze, his bones slowly disintegrating, bandaged, he looks unsightly. byers, senior is changing his bandages.

eben byers:

you always figure out one thing, but lose a thousand others
i, namely,
cannot see an orange before it falls off a tree
for me it will either fall right this instant or it is already on the ground
i, namely,
cannot see far, no further than my hand
since i have two of them, it becomes a problem
i don’t believe in experiences, nor do i take balderdash about feelings too seriously
i, namely,
often laugh at myself when i hear the things i’m saying
the words sound too serious to me,
and i could say anything, i could replace any word with another
they would eventually get to the same point
i, namely,
have a habit of watching her mouth as she speaks
cos she has nice lips
she moves them nicely and they kiss nicely
i, namely,
love beauty and i love the amenities which make my life easier
i neither have a problem with my position, nor am i ashamed of my father
no question in my mind whether all i do is right
undoubtedly, it isn’t
i, namely,
am happy for having a body which is palpable
for having my own movements
for having my own hair
for having my own bones
for having my own teeth
and i only believe in my body
i don’t believe in my feelings
i don’t believe in my deeds
i don’t believe in my ideas
i don’t believe in reason
i don’t believe in my words
i, namely,
know that a memory of a moment is always weaker than the moment
i know physical touch is the only thing i can claim
truly exists
but if i don’t have my body
if i don’t have my teeth
if i don’t have my arms to freely move
if i don’t have a leg to lean on
what then?

byers, senior:

life is never pretty;
this watch is, let’s say, pretty
a woman is pretty
(when she’s pretty)
new york is pretty
parks covered in snow are pretty
but life as a whole is never pretty
it’s never as pretty as in youth
so many sufferings and unnecessary suicides
and, after all, bad literature
would disappear
if only young men knew that they are never gonna be so happy
as they are in that moment of
strength.

eben byers:

you’ve been talking a lot lately.

byers, senior:

i’m just killing time.

eben byers:

i would sell my own father
i would sell my own child
i would sell my wife
if i could have myself
i can’t make plans for the future
i can’t ask for future happiness
everything i have is what i have now.

byers, senior:

stone skipping
capital cities and fresh fish
wheels and sunburns
saint louis olympic games and a backboard in the yard
golf clubs and long walks
nothing
a slap
just a single slap when he was little
it was spring
it took just a single slap to split us apart
for life
c’mon, put it there.

eben byers:

i can’t lift my hand.

byers, senior:

okay, just stretch your arm.

eben byers:

i can’t
i just don’t know how.

byers, senior:

stop fooling around
and speak clearly
i can’t understand a word you’re saying
you’re mumbling like an old man.

eben byers:

i have my own father changing my bandages
as if i were a mummy
bandaged, i can’t feel my skin
i think i smell
i see the paintings around me
tastelessly framed
i see that i have spent thirty years
in the same house
i know each corner
each fork
the bed where i had my first fuck
and by the look of it
the bed where i had my last fuck
we’ve never been able to talk
he and i
it took a single slap
besides all the golf clubs and capital cities
it took just a single slap for me to spend my entire life
hitting the breaks
i am trying not to hurt him
(and as he would say, i’ve always been hurting him)
i’ve never seen him cry
not even when mom died
not even when grandpa died
not even when grandma died
not even when brother died
not even when son died
i will never understand him
and i feel
that i won’t reach the age of becoming
him.

byers, senior:

does it hurt?

eben byers:

a little.

byers, senior:

i can’t fight you anymore
if you don’t give me your hand –

eben byers:

i can’t lift my hand!

byers, senior:

yes, you can!

eben byers:

alright, i can
i don’t want to – to spite you.

byers, senior:

you think i’m a fool?

eben byers:

thanks for helping me, please – my bandages will…

byers, senior:

i don’t know how to do it?

who did it when you were little –
when it was cold
what do you think – what…?

eben byers:

fine.

byers, senior:

who – do you think, who –
when you got stuck in the snow
you think that
what do you think?

eben byers:

just leave it.

byers, senior tries one more time, but he simply doesn’t know how. he has never done any of it. he starts crying and moves away. he turns to mrs byers who shouldn’t be in the room, but is definitely onstage. he slaps her.

byers, senior:

where have you been all day?

am i supposed to change his bandages?

william j. a. bailey, physician:

yes, i had the chance to see eben one more time. certainly, he was no more able to visit me, and i – well, i wasn’t really allowed to go to their house. however, i went there once when no one was around. i went into his room and saw him lying. wrapped in bandages. i must have stood at the door for at least three minutes, watching him.

that certainly isn’t the man i know.

he obviously heard me after some time, because i inadvertently had a louder sigh. he looked at me (i could only see his eyes) and mumbled something, i can’t even remember what anymore.

eben byers:

open the window, it stinks in here
and my balls are already stale.

 william j. a. bailey, physician:

i couldn’t understand what he said, but i had to open the window because of the smell. his body was rotting. his bones were shrinking, disintegrating.

when he spoke, it wasn’t the voice i knew. it simply wasn’t reaching my ears. it’s like he was on a completely different frequency from what my ear canal was used to.

it’s highly unusual that i couldn’t connect the voice with his body. every word he said (and he had to repeat each word three times for me to understand) couldn’t correspond with his body – the one i knew.

couldn’t communicate with his name. eben byers.

that name has a sound, it sticks. that name exists as long as there’s a reason for it to exist.

people live as long as there is memory of them, as long as there are people to talk about them, write about them. i put my hand on his head (i.e. on his bandages) and left. i didn’t want to stain the memory of that man.

beautiful man. with manly features. strong arms. back. agile. fast.

eben byers = his body plus his voice. what’s under these bandages is just a man. any man.

mrs byers:

i counted to three, maybe even four and decided to stay silent about the slap. i entered the room and he said he needed to piss. i helped him. i took it out and…

i looked into his eyes – he really had beautiful eyes.

i had never noticed it, until then.

eben buyers:

no!

don’t move your hand
hold it a little longer
just a little
don’t let it go
i just want to feel it
please
there
it’s nice
it’s really nice

he can’t get it up.

mrs buyers:

i was eight months pregnant at the time, my stomach was swollen, i looked like a peach. a watermelon. i had healthy cheeks. like an apple.

he said he would lie like that for years just to get the chance to see the baby. he said he would lie like that for years, just to stay alive.

then he said he would rather die than stay like that for years.

then he said it would be best not to have the baby and that i should strangle the baby if i have it.

then he said he wished it would look like him. if it were a girl. to look like me, if it were a boy. to have the firmness if it’s a girl and gentleness if a boy. nature would take care of the rest.

then he said that life was a pile of shit and that he would sue his parents for giving birth to him without his permission.

then he asked me to give him a handjob.

or at least i think he said all of that, his voice was so thin that it was torture to listen to him, and it would have taken wisdom to understand him.

afterwards he was silent and he stared into my eyes, like he saw them for the first time. he looked around himself. the wall. windows. paintings. clothes. books. wind through the window. a tree. an occasional cloud.

he looked at me like he wanted to tell me everything. i prayed for him not to cry.

i have never met anyone who hates life so much and who wants so much more from life, and who, simultaneously, loves everything.

windows, paintings, the armchair, clothes, books, wind through the window, a tree, an occasional cloud.

women, men, music, booze, cigarettes, bars, hotels, rich houses.

nature, mountains, woods, rivers, oceans, streams, birds.

the city, the streets, the trains above the 6th avenue, waldorf astoria, the stork club.

politics, daily newspapers, sports, competitions, travelling.

he was looking at me and i knew nothing matters, everything he’d ever said made no sense, everything that was his was always there, always just there, in the moment he was in, it was never an option for everything not to be there, not to be everywhere, in a long moment, which was nothing to him but a bubble gum, stretched from ear to ear, wrapped, stuck in hair, everything that is – is all there is, and all there is – is never enough.

eben byers:

i remember when you
were cussing up a storm
in your mother’s cocktail dress
i spilled your gin
around your bellybutton
you were soaked
then you laughed afterwards
when i had that german people’s rose
in my mouth
and i cut my lip in three places
that’s when you first kissed me
you kissed me
all soaked in gin
you didn’t give a flying fuck about the rose
and i, the idiot, cut my lip in three places
why couldn’t we stay like that
a year after
when we would forget to brush our teeth
before going to bed
why couldn’t that moment
multiply and multiply
just the feeling of that moment
because then
it was the only thing i needed
it was enough
you didn’t bother me with mundane things
i didn’t know every mole on your body
or every bump on your skin
or every word that was coming
in that moment
there was only you
drenched and soaked in gin
me
with a rose plunged into my lips
(endlessly drunk and satisfied)
and when you saw i was bleeding
you didn’t worry
you laughed
looking at me pulling the rose out of my lips
the rose from fat german people from the bronx
we could have stayed in that feeling
maybe it would have been enough
if we just didn’t meet each other further
if we just didn’t known the routine
the moves
the handshake
the threatening looks
the smell under the covers when i fart in the morning
fucking for the sake of fucking
out of obligation
if we only remained without the title of belonging
to each other
if you didn’t get the new name
if you didn’t get the new role in the family
that’s all you got and all i got
two roles
in one bed
maybe it would have been enough
maybe i wouldn’t have asked for the unfulfilled
uneven
crooked
if we only stayed in that moment
when everything was uncertain
maybe it would have been enough.

mrs byers:

i’m sorry my love, i really couldn’t understand everything. are you hungry, let me bring you something. i like it when we have lunch together.

eben byers:

i said that –

mrs byers:

shhhhh, don’t tire yourself – i’ll bring you something to eat, you must have something, to get big and strong.

silence. eben has given up.

eben byers:

they wrote it’s going to be
really hot tomorrow
the hottest day of the year
they say
i’m scared i’m going to sweat
and get even smellier
that i’ll smell like
an armpit
i wouldn’t like that

c’mon, your hand, put it
on my neck
and hold it – tightly.

eben byers exerts all of his strength in his hand to take mrs byers’ hand and put it on his neck, she twitches, refuses at first, but later realizes what eben wants and obediently squeezes until the only thing that’s left of eben byers is his jaw.

mrs byers:

shortly after, maybe a few weeks after, or maybe even days, eben died. it was expected.

luckily, our daughter was born – she’s sleeping now, but she is the cutest thing. she is one year old now, and she’s already made her first step. lilly.

lilly byers.

eben would have been a wonderful father. but it’s better that lilly didn’t see him like that. she would have remembered him as a scarecrow.

would you like to see her? she presses her lips, and clasps her fingers, and she even munches a little when she’s sleeping.

are we done? i don’t know what else to tell you.

byers, senior:

so, the child was born
there was no joy in me
or rage
or sorrow
if lilly (that’s her name)
learns from the start
that she doesn’t need joy
or rage
or sorrow
she’ll survive.

radium girls

5.0

radium girls and eben byers together. it’s dark, they’re dead, only their bodies glow. they shine.

radium girls and eben byers:

we’re young, we’re young, young
so young
we’re young we won’t know what’ll
occur when it occurs
texas tommy, lindy hop, swing and tango
foxtrot, toddle, gentle waltz, feet together
(sometimes)
we’re young, we’re young, young
we sleep alone
(sometimes)
texas tommy, lindy hop, swing and tango
foxtrot, toddle, gentle waltz, feet together
we’re young we won’t know what’ll
happen when it happens
we’re young we’re young young
so young
we’re young, we don’t know that we’ll
be pop culture
be pop culture
be pop culture.

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